Changing Dimension Of Commerce Education In India In 21st Century

To meet today’s requirements of businesses, Commerce education needs fundamental restructuring.

Historically, commercial training was done through apprenticeship, with senior munims taking on juniors as apprentices and teaching them bookkeeping. Formal commerce education in India commenced in 1886 through Commercial Institutes set up by the then Madras government and higher education in Commerce in 1913 at Sydenham College Mumbai. In the early days, shorthand and typewriting were also taught as a part of the program, clearly indicating that skill development was as important as technical knowledge in commerce education. Commerce graduates were expected to work in the trade and business world and the education in Commerce was meant to develop skills required by the businesses.

Commerce has always been and remains among the more popular streams for undergraduates as compared to Science and Arts, the main reason being that commerce graduates are equipped with the skills needed by prospective employers. While the B.Com degree is also viewed as preparatory studies for professional qualifications in accounting, finance and insurance, most graduates look to join the workforce after an undergraduate program. 

The need for an overhaul in commerce education

Two developments have raised questions about the commerce education structure and whether its graduates meet the expectations of employers today. Firstly, the business models have changed significantly over the past decade with the rate of change accelerating further as we move along. The skill requirements for employees have also undergone a dramatic change and commerce education has been slow to keep pace with these changes. Secondly, many universities have started offering undergraduate programs in business and management through BBA or BMS degrees. The graduates of these programs also work in different functions across businesses. What then distinguishes the B.Com degree from a BBA or BMS degree?

India is expected to grow significantly over the next decades. According to a PWC report, India’s share of global GDP is expected to reach 13 per cent from the current 2 per cent. Such rapid growth will create several million jobs in commercial ventures. But these jobs will require skill sets that are presently in short supply. Commerce education needs fundamental restructuring to produce graduates with the requisite knowledge and skill sets needed by businesses of the future.

Enterprises will need all managers and staff to be proficient in using technology for analysis as well as customer and supplier reach. This goes well beyond knowledge of Microsoft Office or Tally accounting software. Ability to understand technology capabilities, specify business requirements of technology and ability to query databases are fundamental requirements. As the E-commerce part of business grows exponentially, skills in digital marketing and customer analytics will be crucial requirements. Globalized supply chains will also need data-based planning and execution skills. Skill requirements also constantly change as business models change, making the ability to continuously learn one of the most important skills.

Ample guidance from UGC, but not much implementation

UGC has moved in the right direction by implementing a choice-based credit system (CBCS) and giving specialization options through electives. While some of the leading colleges and private universities have used the CBCS to offer a wide range of electives, most of the colleges are still offering “standard” courses. Very few have redesigned the entire B.Com program based on the requirements of the businesses.

A case for experience-based learning

Most of the subjects in B.Com are taught as “Theory”. An equal emphasis on experience-based education is needed, as it is universally accepted that skills can be better developed through practice. A compulsory internship program would go a long way in developing a business-ready graduate. Many universities overseas give the option of a Co-op program or Professional Experience Year (OEY), as a yearlong paid internship before the final year of studies. Some universities even have a co-op program that alternates between internship and classroom education throughout the program. Further, teaching by industry practitioners is needed for many subjects like taxation, law etc. Very few colleges take the effort to induct practitioners as faculty. It is critical that students are taught practical nuances, apart from textbook content. UGC requirement of PhD qualification for teaching faculty makes hiring practitioners to teach more cumbersome. 

With the proliferation of institutions offering an undergraduate degree in business and management, the focus B.Com program in any university needs to be clearly defined and distinguished from the BBA / BMS program. Strong emphasis on Accounting, Finance, Tax and Applied Computing as its core with specialization options through electives would clearly define the B.Com program.

A restructured B.Com program would have the following features:

  1. Core courses in Accounting, Finance, Commercial laws, Taxes and Computing
  2. Electives and specialization options (e.g. Advanced Finance, Banking, Insurance, Analytics)
  3. The teaching of Advanced subjects in Accounting, Finance, Tax and Laws by practitioners
  4. Working knowledge of Database management, Object-oriented programming and ERP systems with practical hands-on training
  5. Practical projects with industry
  6. One semester compulsory internship before the final year of studies

Such a program should produce Commerce graduates with the skills and knowledge that businesses need today and in the future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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